Vaquform™, the machine, was conceived by John Tan who is an industrial designer, product developer and lecturer at the University of the Philippines. In his design practice, John specializes in what he calls DFM or 'Design for Manufacturing' where he helps clients find the fastest and most cost-effective way to manufacture their products. This means designing a product from the ground up or reworking an existing design to facilitate production. Often, it also means recommending the acquisition of equipment to meet specific manufacturing challenges. When it is not feasible for a client to follow through with a new capital investment, John will usually work with the company to come up with an improvised solution. In one such case in 2012, a client needed a very large vacuum former for their growing signage business. Rather than importing one, the company commissioned John to design and build this machine, which saved them thousands of dollars.
John would eventually find a niche in designing and building custom thermoforming machines. In 2015, the Philippines' Department of Science and Technology (DOST) commissioned him to develop a studio-grade vacuum former that could easily be fabricated by domestic manufacturers. Knowing that the machine will most likely be operated by non-engineers with little or no technical training, he set out to design something that would be easy to use. A key part of the solution was a software-based controller with a graphical interface and a menu from which users can simply select a material and all the process parameters would automatically be set.
This same controller would later be adapted for a side project which John started while he was still working on DOST's machine, a desktop thermoformer called Vaquform™. As a designer, he has experienced firsthand how 3D printing and other low-cost fabrication tools could make product development work go faster. This ecosystem of new tools could be further enhanced, he realized, if there existed an affordable, commercial-grade vacuum former. Such a machine could start a desktop manufacturing revolution, John imagined, except no commercially available machine at that time met the price and performance parameters he had laid down for his own pet project.
At the heart of any vacuum former is a unit that provides suction. Large commercial thermoformers have a vacuum pump. Small hobby vacuum formers typically use a household vacuum cleaner. Neither solution is compact enough for the desktop tool John envisioned. A crucial innovation came with the development of Vaquform™'s dual-stage vacuum unit. With it, John was able to significantly reduce the physical size, weight, and cost of his vacuum former while maintaining a level of performance that is on par with machines that cost many times more.
In September 2016, John completed the product design along with a fully functioning prototype. Vaquform Inc., the company, was founded soon after. Given the strong market interest in Vaquform™, what once was a side project has become the startup that John now lavishes with full attention. He and his team are now busy preparing for full-scale production.
In February 2017, Vaquform™ will be formally launched through the crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter. If successful in their funding goal, production will begin immediately.